Mrs. Win S. continues; “IIt’s really a shame that many tourists hardly ever leave their hotel complexes and the beach,” says Zarraga. “There is so much more to see in Aruba.” He particularly enjoys showing his guests the Arikok National Park, which is almost 20 percent of the island surface. Here he leads them on hikes through the cactus forest and to hidden bays.
When the Spaniards discovered the islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao at the end of the 15th century, they had already been inhabited by Arawak Indians for centuries. Since they found neither gold nor silver there and considered the land overgrown with cacti, agaves and thorn bushes to be unprofitable, they paid them little attention. In the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch West India Company took possession of the islands and built the most important settlement of Willemstad on Curaçao, one of the most important port cities in the Caribbean and a trading point for luxury goods such as sugar, tobacco and indigo. Aruba and its capital, Oranjestad, have always remained in the shadow of the larger neighboring island. The culture of the indigenous population, their centuries-old knowledge of animals and plants was quickly forgotten.
From a limestone cliff in Arikok National Park, Zarraga steps into a cave that once served as a retreat for the Arawaks. Silver rays of sunlight fall through holes in the vaulted ceiling and give the Guadiriki Cave an almost sacred aura. With the flashlight on his smartphone, the guide illuminates mysterious reddish-brown rock carvings, some of which date back to pre-Columbian times. “No one can say for sure what they mean,” says Zarraga, “but it is evident that this place also had spiritual significance for the Arawaks”. In the nearby Fontein cave the enigmatic geometric signs and abstract animal beings cover much of the cave’s low ceiling and walls. However, some have been damaged by cave tourists in recent decades. “Many Arubans are just rediscovering the motifs,” says Zarraga. “They are appearing more and more frequently in culture and art.”